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Cody v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 14, 2014

PATRICK CODY, O/B/O A.L.F., a minor child, Plaintiff,


FRED VAN SICKLE, Senior District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 15 and 18. This matter was submitted for consideration without oral argument. Plaintiff was represented by Lora Lee Stover. Defendant was represented by Kathryn A. Miller. The Court has reviewed the administrative record and the parties' completed briefing and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and denies Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.


Patrick Cody protectively filed for supplemental security income ("SSI") on behalf of A.L.F., a minor ("Plaintiff"), on September 18, 2009. Tr. 152-158. Plaintiff alleged an onset date of September 18, 2009. Tr. 178. Benefits were denied initially (Tr. 98-100) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 102-104). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which was held before ALJ Marie Palachuk on December 7, 2010. Tr. 50-95. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and appeared at the hearing. Tr. 67-72. Plaintiff's father, Patrick Cody, and medical expert Margaret Moore, Ph.D., also testified. Tr. 55-67, 72-94. The ALJ denied benefits (Tr. 22-42) and the Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1. The matter is now before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing and transcripts, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of Plaintiff and the Commissioner, and will therefore only be summarized here.

Plaintiff was 9 years old and in fourth grade at the time of the hearing. Tr. 67. Plaintiff testified that she got in trouble at school last year for "not being nice." Tr. 69. Plaintiff's father testified that she is on medication for ADHD. Tr. 76. He testified that when Plaintiff was younger, she was removed from several daycares for behavioral problems. Tr. 75-76. He testified that he has to constantly work to keep Plaintiff organized and on schedule. Tr. 77-78. He testified that she does better in school when they work with her "one-on-one" and that she is better behaved with him than with her mom or at school. Tr. 80-81. Plaintiff's father testified that she has problems with bullying and fighting other kids at school, and has been kicked out of the Boys and Girls club after school program. Tr. 82-84. Plaintiff formerly received special education assistance but has since been placed in the regular classroom. Tr. 58, 81. Plaintiff alleges disability based on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and oppositional defiant disorder ("ODD"). Tr. 56.


A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is limited: the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir.2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). "Substantial evidence" means relevant evidence that "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. at 1159 (quotation and citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence equates to "more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less than a preponderance." Id. (quotation and citation omitted). In determining whether this standard has been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole rather than searching for supporting evidence in isolation. Id.

In reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. If the evidence in the record "is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir.2012). Further, a district court "may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless." Id. at 1111. An error is harmless "where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination." Id. at 1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).


On August 22, 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-193, 110 Stat. 105 which amended 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). Under this law, a child under the age of eighteen is considered disabled for the purposes of SSI benefits if that individual has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c(a)(3)(C)(i)(2003).

The regulations provide a three-step process to determine whether a child is disabled. First, the ALJ must determine whether the child is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b). If the child is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two. Step two requires the ALJ to determine whether the child's impairment or combination of impairments is severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). The child will not be found to have a severe impairment if it constitutes a slight abnormality or combination of slight abnormalities that cause no more than minimal functional limitations. Id. If, however, there is a finding of severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to the final step, which requires the ALJ to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meet, medically equal or functionally equal the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment in the listings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(d).

The regulations provide that an impairment will be found functionally equivalent to a listed impairment if it results in extreme limitations in one area of functioning or marked limitations in two areas of functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(a). To determine functional equivalence, the following six broad areas of functioning, or domains, are considered: acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with ...

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